Ryan, Eagles rammed into must-win spot


BUDDY RYAN'S grand parade was right on schedule last year. There was steady progress in his four-year stewardship of the Philadelphia Eagles. There were consecutive playoff appearances. There was talk of a Super Bowl.

Then there was Dec. 31, 1989.

That's the day the Eagles were ambushed by the Los Angeles Rams, 21-7, in an NFC wild-card playoff game at home. That's the day a lot of people realized the Eagles' emperor had a scant wardrobe. Not a lot has gone right for Ryan since then.

Fast forward to this Sunday in Anaheim, Calif. Squared off against those same Rams, Ryan will be fighting to save the Eagles' season and perhaps his job. Few third-week games could loom as large as this rematch.

When the Eagles did the unthinkable in Week 2 -- losing to the Phoenix Cardinals -- they were left staring at some long odds. No team ever started the year 0-2 and reached the Super Bowl. They can hardly afford a plunge to 0-3.

If you're looking for surprises in the young 1990 season, you could start in Philadelphia. Here's a quick trip through the short list:

1. Eagles (0-2).

The situation is ripe for turmoil. Buddy is in the fifth and final year of his contract. He has promised the city a Super Bowl. He has antagonized everybody he plays, now he's antagonized his own fans. They are openly calling for his ouster. One Buddy-basher wants Ryan gone by the team's fifth-week bye, and submitted the following slogan for a radio contest: "Buddy by the bye."

After Sunday's startling defeat, Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham talked about a lack of leadership. Isn't that his job? They also have showed a lack of discipline (11 penalties for 115 yards against Phoenix) and a lack of offense that is a carryover from 1989. Inexplicably, zone defense totally stumps Cunningham. That's what the Rams used a year ago to spring their upset. And both the Giants and Cards played a two-deep zone. To the Eagles, zone defense is like the Bermuda Triangle.

2. Miami Dolphins (2-0).

Are the Dolphins really 30-7 better than Buffalo, or have the Bills really fallen that far? In Sunday's win, Don Shula used an old formula to rough up the Bills. It featured defense and ball control. The Dolphins ran the ball 38 times (for 128 yards) and threw it only 26, yet controlled the ball for some 39 minutes.

They also held the Bills to 44 rushing yards, a far cry from a 31-17 loss last year when the Bills rushed for 280 yards. The balance of power in the AFC East may have swung with the victory. It was the first time in 33 weeks of the regular season that Buffalo did not have a share of first place. And the Dolphins had lost six straight to Buffalo.

Are the Dolphins for real? We'll find out Sunday when they play the Giants at the Meadowlands.

3. Chicago Bears (2-0).

It was one thing for the Bears to beat up on the pathetic Seattle Seahawks in the opener, but quite another to go into Green Bay and whip the Packers. True, they caught the Pack at the right time -- before Don Majkowski was ready to go. But the Packers beat the Bears twice a year ago.

Although coach Mike Ditka was urging caution about the Bears' comeback, early signs are favorable. The Bears collected six sacks at Green Bay and have a total of nine in two games. They also picked up five turnovers. The defense is young, but it's learning fast. Next week's home game against Minnesota could re-establish the Bears in the NFC Central . . . or expose them.

4. New York Jets (1-1).

New coach Bruce Coslet threw a scare at his old team, the Cincinnati Bengals, in Week 1, and then knocked off the Cleveland Browns in Week 2. Coslet said he figured he needed to win one of the first three games to get his program off the ground. Now he's got it. On Monday night, he gets the reeling Bills.

5. New Orleans Saints (0-2).

Nobody expects the Saints to dethrone San Francisco in the NFC West, but in the season's opening Monday night game, they showed how close they might be. They are a quarterback away. John Fourcade, a 35-year-old journeyman, just isn't the answer. And neither was Tommy Kramer in a 32-3 shellacking against Minnesota on Sunday. The Saints haven't scored a touchdown this season and Fourcade has thrown seven interceptions. Maybe it's time to get disgruntled veteran Bobby Hebert back in camp.

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